Exposure to traumatic events can lead to symptoms of acute stress lasting for several weeks and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) persisting for much longer.

Between November and December 2023, Bar-Ilan University professor Amit Shrira conducted a study measuring acute stress and PTSD symptoms among Israelis following the events of October 7.

The study, recently published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, focused on differences in mental health across generations.

Using the online platform Qualtrics, social media, and other methods, scientists reached out to a diverse population and received 428 responses. The findings highlight significant disparities in mental health between younger individuals (aged 20-59) and older adults (aged 60-87).

During the first week of the conflict, 24.8% of young people reported experiencing high levels of acute stress symptoms. In subsequent weeks, the rate of probable PTSD among this group increased to 42.8%.

In contrast, older adults experienced lower levels of acute stress (3.7%) during the initial week, with only 13.7% reporting probable PTSD in the following weeks.

Professor Shrira remarked, "Older individuals have demonstrated remarkable resilience compared to their younger counterparts."

Initially, the study explored two hypotheses to explain the resilience of the older group: the "vulnerability hypothesis," suggesting that older adults are susceptible to trauma-induced psychopathology due to physical frailty and inadequate social support, and the "inoculation hypothesis," proposing that older adults are resilient to trauma due to life experiences and effective coping mechanisms.

The results largely support the "grafting hypothesis," according to Shrira. He explained, "Older adults exhibited impressive resilience during a challenging period of the conflict between Israel and Hamas. This suggests that despite declines in physical, cognitive, and social abilities, older adults possess resources that aid them in coping with traumatic events."

Shrira further elaborated, "These resources include life experience, wisdom, emotional regulation, and the use of strategies to compensate for lost abilities while optimizing retained ones. Additionally, older adults may have adapted to the current conflict by drawing on their past experiences of warfare, including events such as the Yom Kippur War."

"It is crucial to acknowledge the strength and resilience of older individuals," emphasized Professor Amit Shrira.